FBI Used Undercover Agent to Cultivate Sources among Catholic Clergy and Leadership, House Republicans Reveal

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

As part of its effort to identify extremists in the Catholic Church, the FBI recruited at least one “undercover employee” to “develop sources among the clergy and church leadership,” Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) revealed Monday.

Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, issued a subpoena demanding FBI director Christopher Wray testify and provide more information to Congress about the federal agency’s intelligence-gathering initiative targeting Catholic Americans.

“This shocking information reinforces our need for all responsive documents, and the Committee is issuing a subpoena to you to compel your full cooperation,” Jordan claimed in the letter.

“Americans attend church to worship and congregate for their spiritual and personal betterment,” the letter added. “They must be free to exercise their fundamental First Amendment rights without worrying that the FBI may have planted so-called ‘tripwire’ sources or other informants in their houses of worship.”

The weaponization committee demanded that the FBI turn over information related to its investigation of Catholics after a former FBI agent leaked a memo entitled, “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.” The memo, issued by the bureau’s Richmond field office, relied on information compiled by the biased Southern Poverty law Center about alleged “extremist” Catholic communities that prefer the Latin Mass and hold to conservative social teachings.

“In making this assessment, FBI Richmond relied on the key assumption that [racially or ethnically motivated extremists] will continue to find [radical-traditionalist Catholic or RTC] ideology attractive and will continue to attempt to connect with RTC adherents, both virtually via social media and in-person at places of worship,” the January, 23 memo states.

Jordan wrote in the Monday letter that the FBI has not been sufficiently responsive to demands for further documents related to the investigation of Catholics, and demanded that Wray explain the lack of cooperation. The documents the FBI has turned over reveal that the bureau “sought to enlist Catholic houses of worship as potential sources to monitor and report on their parishioners,” according to the letter.

The memo that prompted Jordan’s oversight efforts was retracted after being made public, and FBI director Wray earlier condemned it during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March.

“When I first learned of the piece I was aghast, and we took steps immediately to withdraw it and remove it from FBI systems. It does not reflect FBI standards. We do not conduct investigations based on religious affiliation or practices, full stop. We have also now ordered our Inspection Division to take a look at how this happened and try to figure out how we can make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Wray said at the time.

“I will note it was a product by one field office, which, of course we have scores and scores of these products. And when we found out about it, we took action. We’re also taking steps to reinforce with our workforce, all of the long standing policies we have that speak to this kind of thing. We’ve got refresher training for the relevant employees, etc. And we do not and will not target people for religious beliefs, and we do not and will not monitor people’s religious practices.”

A virtually identical sentiment was echoed by the FBI’s acting assistant director of congressional affairs, Christopher Dunham, in an agency response to an earlier inquiry by Jordan published on March 23.

The report “did not meet the FBI’s exacting standards and was withdrawn,” Dunham said. “Upon learning of the document, FBI Headquarters removed it from our internal system.  The FBI also initiated a review — which is now ongoing.”

Moreover, “the FBI is not anti-Catholic in any way, shape, or form, and does not target people of any faith because of their religious beliefs.”

Attorney generals from 20 Republican-led states have condemned the memo and demanded more information from Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“We already knew that President Biden was launching an attack on the First Amendment rights of Americans, as evidenced by our landmark free speech case Missouri v. Biden, but now it’s clear that he’ll weaponize unelected federal bureaucrats to go after any American who doesn’t worship the ‘right way,’” Andrew Bailey, the Republican attorney general of Missouri, said in a statement following the FBI revelation.

Wray is the most senior official to be subpoenaed by the new Republican House leadership.

More from National Review